Glenwood police warn of ongoing phone scams
July 17, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – When a customer using a hearing impaired phone service asked Jerimy Alexander for a credit card number, so that the customer’s car could be towed to Alexander’s Glenwood Springs’ auto repair shop, Alexander became suspicious.
“It’s kind of weird,” Alexander said. “They put an operator in the middle and they vocalize what is going on.”
At first Alexander, the owner of Riverside Import Auto, was not suspicious of the hearing impaired service, which utilizes a communication assistant like an operator to relay the message of the hearing impaired individual, but some of the questions he was asked were not adding up.
He was able to keep the operator on the phone for about 20 minutes before the person utilizing the service hung up.
“I had a gut feeling all the way through it,” Alexander said. “Once I started asking for how I was going to get paid the caller disconnected the call.”
This was the second call that used the hearing impaired service to contact Alexander’s shop in the last three weeks, he said. According to Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson, the tactics are just a new twist on old scams.
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“It’s not real sophisticated on how they are trying to set you up, but it’s a new way on how they are doing it,” Wilson said.
Wilson said using the hearing impaired service makes it difficult for police to trace the call.
According to the Qwest website, hearing impaired services are common and can be used in a couple of different ways. The website states that people can use the service by calling a toll-free number listed in any phone book, that connects them with a communication assistant who will relay information between the two parties.
There are also computer-based services where a person can connect to a relay via the Internet. The assistant handles the calls the same as a traditional relay call, “voicing” or reading everything the caller types to the other party, and also typing the response message to the person using the service.
Alexander said that the person he was communicating with asked for a credit card number, which they would give the tow-truck operator to transport a car from Pennsylvania to Glenwood Springs. The person said that the vehicle was to be a wedding gift, Alexander said. But Alexander said that it’s always the customer’s responsibility to pay for expenses like towing.
“I do have an account set up with a local tow company, but it’s always the liability of the customer to make towing arrangements,” Alexander said. “That is where it gets fishy really quickly.”
Alexander said that the person was vague with information as well, not supplying a last name, no return address, not specific on what type of vehicle it was or what work needed to be done. Those are “tell-tale signs” of a scam, according to Wilson.
“That is the kind of thing folks need to be real wary of,” Wilson said. “Always be wary of any request for any kind of information, where people are asking you to return information to them. That is the big red flag.”
Wilson said that police have also recently become aware of another e-mail scam where the sender claims to be a representative of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Wilson recently received from a local resident an e-mail message that stated it was from the IRS, that the person’s tax refund was miscalculated, and that IRS was going to deposit money into their account. The e-mail requested that they send bank account information so that the money can be deposited.
“That kind of information request, leading back to financial information is the biggest red-flag you can get,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that he’s contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the IRS e-mail. But, people should always take requests similar to that, to experts like accountants, bankers, or at least ask the police, just as Alexander did after he received the second suspicious phone call.
The IRS keeps a running account of current scams at its website, http://www.irs.gov/newsroom.